Monday, August 5th, 2013...5:54 pm

Double vision?

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2007TW-83(62) Page 42, Detail
I’m currently cataloging a nice run of English opera imprints from the 18th century, many published by John Walsh. This particular score, William Boyce’s The Chaplet, seemed to be another in much the same vein. These Walsh scores are engraved, and provide a wide variety of printing variations, both expected, and … unexpected.

2007TW-83(62) Title page

Now granted, after a weekend out in the sun, when I turned to page 42 at first I took off my glasses to clean (cursing aging eyes quietly to myself) then looked more closely.

2007TW-83(62) Page 42

But indeed I was not seeing double. (Click on this image to enlarge it, if you cannot see what I mean.) What I discovered in this score was the first full-blown example of a “slur” that I’ve ever seen in music printing. Slurs refer to the blurred or doubled ink impressions caused by the sliding of paper or engraved plate during a printing run. In this case, there is a perfect faint shadow to the right of the impression. I’ve seen blurring at the edges or corners, as if the paper had been lifted carelessly, but never such a complete shadow as this.

In most cases, printing errors like this would be “canceled” by pasting a corrected impression over the error, or cutting out the offending leaf, and mounting a corrected leaf to the stub left behind. But in this case for whatever reason, the printer opted not to correct the slur. Economy? We know that the publishing industry at this time worked at the continual edge of bankruptcy. And the owner who annotated this page treated it exactly as he or she had treated the rest of the score, suggesting that such an error was unimportant to them. Another few pennies saved for the printer I guess. Could the proof reader simply not have noticed? Your guess is as good as mine.

[Thanks to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]


  • Thanks for this post–I always find printer’s errors helpful in illustrating how the printing process worked and this is a wonderful example! If I’m understanding how slurring happens, it’s something that would just happen for a single impression, yes? That is, not all impressions of this engraving would be slurred, just this one copy. Did proof readers at engraving shops proof every single print? My understanding with the common press is that after the initial proofing (when that happened), there were only rudimentary glances at impressions, not a careful examination–it seems entirely likely that a quick glance at the sheet as you pull it off the press wouldn’t reveal the level of slurring that happened here.

  • Good point Sarah, this is definitely a single impression kind of error, and not one which would leap out in a quick glance at a larger sheet. That could well be the explanation: I’m not sure if music proofing was carried out in just the same way as letterpress printing was, but this seems perfectly logical to me. Thanks so much for weighing in!

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